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A November 11th meditation, 2013

If you had been alive in the United States during the years 1868 to 1876, would you have uncritically "supported the troops" who were providing the force of arms that backed up the policy of stealing the land of the American Indians such as the Lakota Sioux and deliberately destroying their way of life, so that others could take what they wanted from them (which turned out to be basically everything)?

Would you have given up your seats in the first-class section of the train and given them to the troops coming back from the "Indian campaigns," the way people today give up their seats in the first-class sections of airplanes for members of the US military?

Would you have reflexively said, "Thank you for your service" whenever you met someone who had participated in those campaigns?

In 1868, representatives of the US government (namely General Sherman, General Harney, General Terry, General Augur, and others) signed a treaty with the Lakota Sioux acknowledging the right of the Sioux to all the territory from "the east bank of the Missouri river where the 46th parallel of north latitude crosses the same, thence along low-water mark down said east bank to a point opposite where the northern line of the State of Nebraska strikes the river, thence west across said river, and along the northern line of Nebraska to the 104th degree of longitude west from Greenwich, thence north on said meridian to a point where the 46th parallel of north latitude intercepts the same, thence due east along said parallel to the place of beginning," which basically included all of what is now delineated as the state of "South Dakota" located to the west of the Missouri River.*

The treaty stipulated that the country named would be "set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians" and, further, that "the United States now solemnly agrees that no persons, except those herein designated and authorized so to do, and except such officers, agents, and employees of the government as may be authorized to enter upon Indian reservations in discharge of duties enjoined by law, shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in the territory described in this article, or in such territory as may be added to this reservation for the use of said Indians."  This treaty was ratified by the US Senate.

In spite of this treaty, however, in 1874 an army unit under General Custer went into the Black Hills (sacred to the Lakota and called Pa Sapa in their language, and within the area off limits as described in the above treaty) to confirm the presence of gold there, after which prospectors began to pour into the region, demanding military protection by the US Army from the Sioux.

There followed negotiations in which the US government tried to buy back the Black Hills, but the Lakota declined.  So, the US government decided to declare war on the Sioux, after which they "began to look around" for an excuse to justify going to war, according to Stephen Ambrose in Crazy Horse and Custer, who cites former Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs George Washington Manypenny (1808-1892).  On page 396 of that book, Ambrose writes: "After making the decision to declare war (according to George Manypenny, a former commissioner of Indian affairs), the government then began to look around for a causus belli."  They found one in a report of a raid by the Sioux agains the neighboring Crow: "Although such raids had been going on since time out of mind, the government announced with a straight face that it was reluctantly making war on the wild Sioux in order to protect the Crows" (396).

In other words, the United States was involved in a grave injustice, one which would lead to the death and misery of an entire nation of people, and the soldiers who engaged in backing up that policy by force were also involved in a grave injustice.  The attitude of the military leaders can be seen in a letter from General Sherman, a lead signatory of the treaty which had been signed in April of 1868, to General Sheridan, written in October of 1868, just a few months after he signed the treaty, in which Sherman said: 
Go ahead in your own way and I will back you with my whole authority.  If it results in the utter annihilation of these Indians, it is but the result of what they have been warned of again and again.  [. . .] I will do nothing and say nothing to restrain our troops from doing what they deem proper on the spot, and will allow no mere vague general charges of cruelty and inhumanity to tie their hands, but will use all the powers confided to me to the end that these Indians, the enemies of our race and our civilization, shall not again be able to begin or carry out their barbarous warfare on any kind of pretext they may choose to allege.  Cited in Ambrose, 303.
These are hideous statements and hideous sentiments.  While not everyone under Sherman's command may have harbored sentiments as odious and inhuman as those expressed in this letter from Sherman to Sheridan, the fact is that every single one of the soldiers in that campaign, and in many others like it which took place against other tribes throughout the American west as the United States expanded into territory that it wanted to take away from the people who had lived there for hundreds or thousands of years before them, was involved in a completely unjust and immoral violation of natural law.  By extension, so was the public that provided support to the government that was carrying out these acts.

What would have been the proper thing to do if one were in the military of the US at that time?  It would have been to renounce participation in such an immoral and unjust action and to tender one's resignation.  Likewise, the proper response of the public should have been outrage at this shameful and illegal use of deadly force to steal the country of the American Indians and destroy their way of life.  

Every individual aware of what was going on should have registered this outrage in the strongest terms possible, should have attempted to explain what was going on to others, should have removed their approval and support from the government that was perpetrating this atrocity until the situation was rectified, and should have encouraged others to remove their approval and support from that government as well.

Instead of providing automatic and reflexive words and displays of approval and encouragement to the individuals in the military who were under the command of men such as Sherman, citizens should have clearly and plainly told them that what they were doing was utterly wrong, and helped them to understand why it was wrong, and why the only proper course of action was the immediate renunciation of any support or participation in the ongoing criminal violence.

It was absolutely justified for the Lakota Sioux to resist with force of arms the unjust incursions of the US Army, even though their resistance was ultimately doomed to failure.  In 1876, led by Tatanka-Iyotanka (Sitting Bull, pictured above) and Tashunka-Witko (Crazy Horse, whose stated policy was never to be photographed and of whom no undisputed photograph exists), warriors of the Lakota and other allied tribes completely annihilated a force of the US 7th Cavalry led by General Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

In exhorting his people to continue their free way of life rather than consent to being made into slaves who were bound to obey the dictates of others, Sitting Bull said:
I don't want to have anything to do with people who make one carry water on the shoulders and haul manure.  The whites may get me at last, but I will have good times till then.  You are fools to make yourselves slaves to a piece of fat bacon, some hardtack, and a little sugar and coffee.  17.
In explaining the difference between those who believe they have the right to tell others what to do (and enforce those orders with violence, even to the point of killing), Crazy Horse's fellow Oglala warrior He Dog (pictured below) related these words of Crazy Horse:
I said, 'Does this mean that you will be my enemy if I move across the creek?'  Crazy Horse laughed in my face.  He said, 'I am no white man!  They are the only people who make rules for other people, that say, "If you stay on one side of this line it is peace, but if you go on the other side I will kill you all."  I don't hold with deadlines.  There is plenty of room; camp where you please.' xv.
Both leaders in these admirable quotations are expressing disgust at those who enslave others, or enslave themselves.  They were willing to fight against the violation of natural law that was being perpetrated against them and their people.  That is admirable; to fight on the side that is violating natural law is despicable.

Ultimately, however, there was no way that the Lakota could militarily resist the overwhelming numbers that the US government could muster, nor the wholesale destruction of the buffalo herds on which their traditional way of life depended.  The only thing that could have stopped the US government from pursuing its unjust policy would have been widespread outrage and removal of support from the people on whom the US government relied for its existence, and on whose sons it relied for its military.

That widespread outrage and removal of support never happened.  Every human being today should carefully consider this fact, and commit to memory the quotations of the two Lakota leaders cited above, and the view of mankind and the natural rights of every living soul expressed in those words from the past.

* the size of the portion of country ceded by the US to the Sioux including the entire state of South Dakota to the west of the Missouri River can be seen on any map of the US; the "104th degree of longitude west" describes the western north-south running boundary of modern South Dakota, and the "46th parallel of north latitude" describes the northern east-west running boundary of modern South Dakota.


This week in the US*, a new television series on NBC entitled Revolution will premiere, imagining a future in which the electricity that powers civilization has mysteriously and abruptly been cut off, resulting in a world that slides rapidly into violence, danger, and barbarism.

The pilot episode has gotten some good reviews so far, such as this one entitled "And darkness fell on the world," by Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal.  She writes that Revolution is "not another end-of- the-world fantasy drenched in blood and darkness," describing the landscape after the collapse of civilization as we know it as "a life fraught with dangers, a society devoid of protections, where militias rule."

The show's writers do not portray the collapse as a having much, if any, silver lining, according to Ms Rabinowitz: "there are no messages here about the value of returning to a simpler time, it's a relief to note."  Instead, she writes, there are plenty of powerful reminders of what has been lost.  The writers portray the new barbaric landscape brilliantly, in her opinion: "a place imagined in detail so haunting in its evocation of the lost past, so romantic even in its bleak present, it's impossible to remain unmoved by it all."

As the great teacher -- and Whitman scholar -- professor Dr. Jimmie Killingsworth once taught me, science fiction (including visions of dystopian futures such as the one found in Revolution) often tells us more about the present than about the future: the fears, issues, and struggles taking place in the world when it is written**.  The science fiction from the 1950s and 1960s, for example, often involves political and social themes of immediate importance to the world as it was at that time, in addition to its visions of the future (some remarkably accurate, some less so).

In light of that fact, it is interesting to consider what sorts of issues from our own present day the writers of Revolution are wrestling with -- perhaps questions about the increasingly central role played by technology, and its ability to act simultaneously as both a hedge against tyranny and oppression (by widely diffusing access to knowledge and information) and a tool to enable tyranny and oppression (by those who can gain access to the levers needed to "turn it off" for everyone but themselves, or otherwise turn it to their own ends while denying it to others).

Additionally, it would certainly seem that the show's authors are engaging in commentary about issues of government and the use of power in the United States, particularly in light of their choice of labels rich in historical connotations in US history, such as "militias," as well as the choice of calling the main set of antagonists the "Monroe Militia" (perhaps a sidelong reference to the transformative "Monroe Doctrine" of 1823 which altered the direction of foreign policy in the young nation and which continues to play an important foreign policy role to this day).

Beyond all that, however, the show's premise is intriguing and important in that it imagines and then portrays an entire world plunged into darkness -- not only the literal cessation of electricity, computers, networks, and internal combustion engines but also the metaphorical idea of the loss of "light," which is a word often used to embody learning as opposed to ignorance, civilization as opposed to barbarism, humanity as opposed to brutality.

As such, it is certainly thought-provoking to consider the fragility of whatever level of "light" we now enjoy in the world, and the possibility that it could be lost.  Even more thought-provoking, however, is the chilling possibility that such a catastrophic extinguishing of the light of learning and civilization has already taken place once in humanity's distant past -- and that we, even with all our technological achievement, are still living in the aftermath of that long-ago Revolution!

Many previous posts on this blog have presented tantalizing evidence that such a loss indeed took place, including:

Also, the fascinating work of Lucy Wyatt argues that an extremely advanced knowledge would have been necessary to get "civilization" going in the first place (breeding domesticated cattle from the wild bovine predecessors would have taken hundreds of generations and required almost unbelievable foresight and patience to arrive at a workable end product, and the same is true for most domesticated grains).  She believes that the extremely advanced knowledge that was passed on to the relatively peaceful and enlightened Bronze Age civilization (or civilizations) was gravely threatened by the arrival of more warlike and less contemplative Iron Age cultures, who ultimately stamped it out in the parts of the world that would become "the West," but not before some of the knowledge was passed along (such as to the Greeks from the priests of ancient Egypt, for example).

Lucy Wyatt's book can be found here, and some previous posts which comment on this important thesis can be found here and here.

Is it important to know that such a catastrophe might have befallen humanity in the unbelievably remote past?


If we know (or at least suspect) that a collapse even more catastrophic than that portrayed in Revolution once took place, then we can ask ourselves "How did it happen?" and (equally or even more importantly) "How can we prevent it from happening again?"  Indeed, if the effects of that great ancient fall are still being felt today in the civilizations which are descended from those Iron Age civilizations, we can also ask, "How can we remedy or undo some of the forces which led to the loss of that light, and which may still stand between us and something that has been lost?"

On the other hand, if we deny the very possibility that such a catastrophe ever occurred, and if our collective institutions of higher learning selectively suppress the examination of the evidence for such a loss, and ridicule theories that contradict the dominant paradigm of ancient history, then we become less capable of avoiding the developments that might have led to the violent extinguishing of "the lights" the first time around.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the protagonists of the upcoming series appear to have the surname "Matheson."  This is obviously a different last name than that of your humble blog author, and no relation or connection is to be assumed or inferred from any similarity.  In the event of any future power outages, please don't look at me.

* Viewers outside the US may be able to watch the series directly on (the first episode is already available online here).

** Since I published this, Professor Killingsworth has written to me to gently point out that this idea comes originally from Ursula Le Guin's introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, in which she says:
The purpose of a thought-experiment, as the word was used by Schrodinger and other physicists, is not to predict the future -- indeed, Schrodinger's most famous thought-experiment goes to show that the "future," on the quantum level, cannot be predicted --  but to describe reality, the present world.

Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive.
Thanks for the correction!  Nevertheless, Ms Le Guin's brilliant insights were recognized as such by Professor Killingsworth, and all these years later I still remember his comment on this point.  He no doubt mentioned Ms Le Guin as the originator of that insight back then as well -- my apologies for necessitating a gentle reminder on that point! 


Many readers have no doubt already seen the video above of the presentation by Paul Stamets filmed in March 2008 discussing "Six Ways Mushrooms can Save the World" (many thanks to my good friend Mr. DY for alerting me to this video some years ago).

Now, there is a new video just recently uploaded to the web, also featuring Paul Stamets in a TEDMed talk from October of 2011, which goes into more detail on some of the amazing subjects discussed in the video above, as well as discussing some recent advances he and his colleagues have made since then. It includes a very moving story at the end that you won't want to miss.

As Mr. Stamets himself mentions in both talks and discusses at greater length in his writings both on the internet and in his published books (such as Mycelium Running, Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, The Mushroom Cultivator, and Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World), there is extensive evidence that ancient civilizations were keenly aware of the incredible powers of mushrooms -- perhaps more aware than we are today.

In this selection from Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, Mr. Stamets provides some descriptions of the evidence of ancient mushroom use, including cave art in the Tassili region of Algeria in which "mushrooms with electrified auras are depicted outlining a dancing shaman." The "electrified auras" -- as well as the descriptions and images Mr. Stamets gives in his talks of mycelium as "the Earth's natural internet" -- brings to mind the topics touched on in previous posts such as this one and this one. Mr. Stamets also notes that the man known as "The Ice Man" (whose mummified remains were found in the Ötzal Alps) apparently had three different species of mushroom among his possessions.

There is strong evidence that the ancient Egyptians, Hindus, and Maya all revered mushrooms. This website outlines some of the arguments that have been made concerning the possibility that the manna described in the sacred Hebrew Scriptures was actually a form of mushroom (it was small and round, it was gathered in the morning "in the morning dew," and it would breed larva and melt to mush if kept and not dried).

Books by Dr. Dan Merkur (Mystery of Manna: the Psychadelic Sacrament of the Bible) and Dr. Carl A. P. Ruck (Sacred Mushrooms: Secrets of Eleusis and Mushrooms, Myth, and Mithras: The Drug Cult that Civilized Europe) provide extensive evidence that the ancients incorporated psychoactive mushrooms in some of their most important attempts to interact with the divine and the supernatural. The writings of the first Europeans to encounter the civilizations of Central America indicate the same thing, as do the hundreds of "mushroom stones" which have been found in the Americas.

Mr. Stamets has another article available on the internet which explores some fascinating history of mushrooms in Asia, demonstrating connections to the warrior "Flowering Knights" of Korea and to shamanic practice, as well as pointing out that "Prominent within many Buddhist temples are representations of medicinal mushrooms, particularly Ganoderma lucidum, also known as Ling Chi, the Mushroom of Immortality, and the Tree of Life Mushroom."

Whatever your assessment of these various arguments, it is apparent from the work of Mr. Stamets that modern science is only just beginning to take note of the amazing secrets surrounding mushrooms. It is also quite clear that ancient advanced civilizations perceived the importance of these amazing organisms.

While more examination on the topic is warranted, the prominent place of mushrooms in ancient times in Asia, Central America, and the Mediterranean, as well as the fact that they were apparently referred to as "The Bread of God" by civilizations in both the Old World and the New World, seems to point to the possibility of contact beyond what is countenanced in conventional history.

Much more can be said on this subject, beyond the scope of this short post, but in conclusion it is also important to point out a subject brought up in both of Mr. Stamets' videos above. That is the fact that there are very rare and very beneficial fungi species which can only be found in old growth forests. These species (such as the Agarikon fungi, or fomitopsis officinalis) were apparently known to the ancients, but have disappeared from Europe with the disappearance of the old growth forests, and now can be only rarely encountered in the few remaining patches of old growth forest in the Pacific northwest.

It seems that in the process of stamping out ancient knowledge in much of the world, the agents of anti-knowledge also nearly stamped out a species that the ancients recognized as incredibly beneficial to mankind. No doubt there are many other species that were in fact lost forever, whose potency mankind will now never have the opportunity to rediscover.

Note: the fact that mushroom expert Paul Stamets feels the need to place the warning in bold type and red ink on his website which reads, "WARNING: Never eat a mushroom unless it has been positively identified" should be taken with the utmost of seriousness. There are mushrooms which can destroy the human liver before any ill effects are noticed -- by the time the symptoms show up, it is usually too late. Fungi on one continent that look just like the fungi of another can be edible in one continent but can be a deadly look-alike species on another. Every year there are tragic stories of families from Asia living in California who pick wild fungi for a New Year's dish and all are poisoned by the same meal. Please use extreme caution and respect the power of mushrooms -- they are an organism which is not to be taken lightly.

The Methuselah redwood

The Methuselah redwood

The California redwood (also known as the coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens) is the tallest species of tree on earth, reaching heights of well over 300 feet*.

Redwoods are found along a stretch of the Pacific coast about as far south as San Luis Obispo and as far north as Oregon. They thrive along a fairly narrow strip of the coast close to the ocean, obtaining about forty percent of their necessary water from the fog generated by the interaction between the cold Pacific waters and the air.

Redwoods can live for thousands of years, but due to the extensive logging that took place from the early nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century, almost all of the original "old-growth" redwoods were cut down for their valuable timber.

This webpage from the US National Park Service explains that about 96% of the original old-growth redwood forest was cut down, and much of the remaining old-growth redwood forest is located in the Redwood National and State Park in the very northernmost part of the state of California.

Around the mighty stumps of the ancient redwoods that the loggers cut down throughout northern California, "daughter rings" have grown up, and today there are thick forests containing trees between one hundred and one hundred fifty years old, many of which are well over a hundred feet tall, although not as massive in girth as the old-growth trees, which had more than a thousand years to grow before the loggers arrived in the early 1800s.

In the redwood forests that blanket the Santa Cruz mountains, however, there are one or two old-growth trees which were spared from the logging operations of the previous centuries (often because they were in inaccessible locations or because the tree itself exhibited undesirable characteristics, as explained in this 1996 article on logging in the Santa Cruz mountains).

One of the only old-growth trees remaining is the Methuselah Redwood (shown above), a massive and gnarly redwood with a base circumference of about 45 feet. Its height was estimated to have been 225 feet before its top broke off in 1954, leaving the tree almost ninety feet shorter.

The tree's name refers to its great age, estimated at over 1,800 years. It is not as well known, perhaps, as another tree bearing the same name, a Bristlecone Pine known as the Methuselah Tree (also in California but located in the mountains farther south and east, between Mono Lake and Death Valley and close to the border with Nevada). With an estimated age of over 4,800 years, the Methuselah Bristlecone is the oldest known individual non-clonal tree.

However, the Methuselah redwood shares more than its name with the Methuselah Bristlecone, and that is the fact that the location of both trees remain deliberately unpublicized due to the likelihood that vandals will deface or otherwise damage them. This is a sad statement about human nature and about the times we are living in, and brings to mind the discussions found in previous posts such as "Gungywamp" and "How does barbarism win?"

In spite of the fact that the location of the Methuselah redwood is not marked by any signs visible from the road, I have been saddened to find new evidence of vandalism (large squares of the tree's thick bark cut away so that despoilers could carve initials in the tree) on subsequent visits over the years (there were no such cuts the first time I ever visited this lonely survivor in the woods).

In their disrespect for this old-growth tree, these vandals are worse in some ways than the clear-cutters of previous centuries, operating as they do out of petty ugliness, and living as they do in a time when the damage done in the past is obvious and well-known, and the need to preserve the remaining few old-growth trees far more pressing.

Finally, the use of the name Methuselah is notable, because it points to the extreme length of lifespans recorded in the book of Genesis for those who lived prior to the flood (and, to a lesser degree, those who lived after the flood). None of the lifespans recorded is as long as that of Methuselah, who was the grandfather of Noah and who is said to have lived 969 years.

These lifespans are so long that they are widely dismissed without much thought as completely legendary by many readers today, but Walt Brown notes that the decline in lifespans given in Genesis immediately following the flood follows a mathematical curve typical of an exponential decay: quite remarkable if the recorded lifespan lengths were simply dreamed up as a fiction or legend.

He posits that, if a catastrophic flood took place the way his theory describes it (and the way that hundreds of pieces of evidence around the world suggest that it did), then the events surrounding that flood would have created most of the radioactive isotopes on earth, and that radioactive isotopes may have been almost nonexistent beforehand: this could be connected to a dramatic decrease in lifespan after the flood.

Such a theory, if true, would have incredibly far-reaching implications.

* One of the best books to depict and discuss the size and mass of the largest species of trees (most of which are found in North America, with the exception of the mighty kauri trees of New Zealand) is Forest Giants of the Pacific Coast, by Dr. Robert van Pelt of Humboldt State University.

If the ancients really knew so much, why didn't they just come right out and say it?

Readers of this blog or the Mathisen Corollary book might be asking themselves, "Why would the ancients hide advanced scientific knowledge in mythology? If they really knew all the things you claim that they knew, why didn't they just come right out and say so?"

Well, for the past several days we have been launching discussions from some of the excellent analysis of Robert Temple in his Sirius Mystery (as well as briefly discussing his latest contribution about the Sphinx of Giza). While not necessarily agreeing with all of his conclusions, it is clear that he has a lot to offer and deserves a lot of credit for advancing the knowledge available to us all in many ways with his work over the years.

When it comes to the question of why the ancients chose to pass down their knowledge inside of myths that had great literary merit in their own right and which were so full of human drama and intrinsic interest that they would be told for generations (right up to our own times!) without any knowledge that they might contain hidden messages about the paths of the stars and planets, Robert Temple provides some valuable insights. First, he articulates a theory that others have made before, which is that by doing so, the authors of these myths could "incentivize" others to pass them on -- because they were such irresistible stories, they would be passed right along in total ignorance of their true meaning.

Beyond this, however, he makes another very good point, which is that ancient cultures were often quite "totalitarian" in nature (my word, not his, with apologies for importing a not-entirely-appropriate modern word, but doing so in order to make a point), structured in such a way that a new regime could completely obliterate knowledge that had been passed down for ages, simply by killing off those who knew it, or by some slightly less violent but equally final form of censorship. In his "Author's Note" at the beginning of his book, Robert Temple says:
It is important that this strange material be placed before the public at large. Since learning was freed from the tyranny of the few and opened to the general public, through first the invention of printing and now the modern communications media and the mass proliferation of books and periodicals and more recently the 'paperback revolution,' any idea can go forth and plant the necessary seeds in intellects around the world without the mediation of any panel of approval or the filtering of a climate of opinion based on the currently accepted views of a set of obsolescent individual minds.

How difficult it is to keep in mind that this was not always the case. No wonder, then, that before such things were possible, there were secret traditions of priests which were handed down orally for centuries in unbroken chains and carefully guarded lest some censorship overtake them and the message be lost. In the modern age, for the first time secret traditions can be revealed without the danger that they will be extinguished in the process.
Robert Temple raises an excellent point in the above. The only point of disagreement might be his concluding sentence, which appears to presume that civilization and progress as we know it cannot possibly collapse into barbarism and backwardness -- an assumption that should be hard to maintain in light of the evidence he finds for extremely ancient and advanced knowledge that was later obliterated in almost every corner of the globe for many centuries (see discussions on this subject here and here).

John Anthony West has even more to say on the subject and adds yet another dimension in his indispensable book Serpent in the Sky, in which he argues that advanced knowledge of harmonics, resonance, and proportion (such as that apparently in use by the ancient Egyptians) can be used for evil and for reducing its targets to abject despair, and thus such information should not be scattered abroad lightly, even today. We discuss this angle in this previous blog post entitled "Mild but persistent torture." Mr. West's analysis suggests yet another reason why the ancients would want to encode their advanced knowledge and keep it from being understood by anyone but those carefully screened and allowed in to the circle of the initiated.

All of this may strike a familiar chord with readers familiar with the New Testament, particularly passages such as the parables of Christ, in which the disciples are given the explanation and told that the true meaning will not be given to all of the hearers. After hearing the famous parable of the sower in Luke 8, for instance, the disciples asked Christ, "What might this parable be?" In verse 10 we read: "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand."

The parallel event in Matthew 13 is even more explicit. This time, the disciples come and ask a slightly different question, "Why speakest thou unto them in parables?" In verses 11 and following, the answer given is: "Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand."

These verses are strongly suggestive of the same approach that we have been discussing. This subject clearly bears careful consideration. I will leave it to the theologians to explain why these rather stark statements are given to the disciples after the parable of the sower.

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps

When I was about 10 years old or not much older, my father started taking me on amazing backpacking trips to Yosemite, Mokelumne Wilderness, Tuolumne Meadows, Mount Conness and the Conness Glacier, and many other awe-inspiring destinations in the Sierras.

We would pack very light on these trips, and usually stop by the iconic Redwood Trading Post to stock up on essential supplies that were difficult to find anywhere else. Those visits to the Redwood Trading Post are themselves worthy of several paragraphs of description, with their amazing rack of backpacking and survival books by the door and their rows and rows of military knives and unit patches behind the counter.

One essential item we would always take on a backpacking trip was a tiny bottle of Dr. Bronner's 18-in-1 soap, in a bottle that looked exactly like the 32 ounce (one-quart) bottle pictured above, but about ten times smaller (about the size of your thumb or a little larger and containing perhaps four to six fluid ounces).

Peppermint was perhaps the only option back then (in fact, on those old labels, it apparently used to declare that: "Peppermint is nature's own unsurpassed fragrant Deodorant!"). In any event, it was the flavor we always took, and it came with the same fascinating and famous labels that are still on the bottles today, complete with instructions for the proper dilution to use for washing your camp dishes, washing your hair, washing your clothes, brushing your teeth, or even cleaning the fruit spray off of your fruits and vegetables!

I was of course fascinated by the densely-packed Moral ABC's printed on every bottle, and my Dad and I would laugh together at the quirky syntax that Dr. Bronner made famous on his tiny blue labels.

But there is no doubt Dr. Bronner believed very strongly what he was conveying in the labels on his versatile soaps. Here's one example: "Free Speech is man's only weapon against half-truth, that denies free speech to smear - slay - slander - tax - enslave. Full-truth, our only God, unites all mankind brave, if 10 men guard free-speech, brave!"

The timeline of Dr. Bronner's story posted on the Dr. Bronner's website today notes that Dr. Bronner began printing the messages and attaching them to the soap bottles early in the 1950s when he was urgently lecturing in Pershing Square in Los Angeles, convinced that the world needed to unite before it destroyed itself, but frustrated that people were buying the soap that he sold at the lectures and leaving without hearing his talk.

Dr. Bronner's message was -- and is -- that humanity needed to recognize how vanishingly trivial are their differences in the face of the stunning celestial majesty of Creation, according to the website (and any reading of his messages on the labels of his soaps).

For Emil Bronner, who emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1929, these were no mere intellectual conceits -- they were urgent and personal. His parents were both murdered by the Nazis in concentration camps during the Holocaust. In the 1940s, before he even began his soap business in 1948, he was lecturing on the need for unity "across ethnic and faith traditions, and about the dangers of Communism alongside Fascism," according to the Dr. Bronner's website.

For his efforts, Emil Bronner was actually arrested in 1947 for speaking without a permit at the University of Chicago, and committed to an insane asylum at Elgin, Illinois. He was involuntarily exposed to shock treatments and forced labor but escaped (on his third attempt) without a lobotomy. For a moving description of that part of his life given by his son Ralph Bronner, see the video below.

Dr. Bronner made his way to Los Angeles to avoid being recaptured in Illinois, and started his soap business after an initial foray into the nascent world of health-food (he made Dr. Bronner's Mineral Salt and Dr. Bronner's Mineral Bouillon before salt). He started his soap business in 1948, only a few years before the Redwood Trading Post (another family business) started much farther to the north in 1952.

Dr. Bronner's soap became a huge counterculture success among people who were suspicious of the chemicals in other products during the 1960s and 1970s. These concerns are still valid today -- we all know that our skin is the largest organ in the body, and that we shouldn't put on our skin anything we wouldn't be willing to ingest through our mouth. In fact, chemicals rubbed on the skin may be more dangerous than those swallowed through our mouths because the skin enables direct absorption into the bloodstream, while our digestive tract has systems for filtering out poisons and toxins and other harmful substances.

Many skincare, shaving products, lotions and hair products sold to unsuspecting consumers today contain chemicals and substances such as methylisothiozolinone (MIT) and numerous forms of parabens (such as methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben), as well as petroleum bases. All of these substances have been alleged to be harmful in various ways to human health, and some studies appear to back up these fears (MIT, for instance, appears to be lethal to human neurons, according to more than one study).

With all the attention that we pay to what we put in our diet, we might want to consider looking into what we rub on our skin every day as well.

While the following is a bit of a tangent, it is worth pointing out that Dr. Bronner's soap is not only useful for washing your mess kit when you go backpacking, but it is also a fantastic soap for use back home in the confines of civilization. Not only that, but chips of bar soap from your Dr. Bronner's bar version soap make great shave soaps to toss into your shave mug when they start to become too thin to use with a washcloth.

When I was in the 82nd Airborne, there was a wily old Sergeant First Class named SFC Williams, who used to take a shave mug in his rucksack even out to the field. It was actually an unbreakable plastic coffee mug, with the "Strike Hold!" crest of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment on it, and he would use a moistened shave brush to create a lather and shave with it out in the field, while everyone else was trying to splash water on their faces with their hands out of a canteen cup and then apply some kind of foamy shaving cream out of a spray can.

Intrigued, I asked him the story behind this novel and old-fashioned method of shaving, and was told that once when he and his wife were going through very tough financial times (the pay we give the NCOs who devote their lives to protecting our freedoms is and was quite shameful, in my personal opinion) he examined every aspect of his budget to see where he could possibly save money. He determined that shaving with soap from a mug was far more economical than spending money on cans of shaving cream every couple of weeks, and so he switched to using a shave mug. He said he also considered switching to a straight razor, which would have been cheaper than using disposable razors, but decided that the risk involved was not worth the potential savings.

Soon enough, I had my own shaving mug (including a plastic coffee mug for taking to the field with a disc of shave soap) and was discovering all the benefits of this forgotten method of applying shaving cream. In addition to saving money (which it certainly did -- a disc of shave soap back then could cost under a dollar, when even the cheapest brands of cans of shaving cream were a couple bucks), it enabled you to heat the shaving water much hotter than you could heat it if you had to apply the water to your face using your fingers. The brush didn't mind if you heated the water to a boil in your canteen cup (or at home with your microwave oven), and by the time you had swirled it around in the shave mug it was cool enough to apply to your own mug but still hot enough to be quite nice. Additionally, the action of the brush helped invigorate your face, make the stubble stand up better, and even gave you a bit of a facewash (which was nice when you were out in the woods for weeks on end, and smearing green grease all over every inch of exposed skin every few hours).

Later, when I was no longer in the Army, I returned to using Dr. Bronner's soaps and stopped buying special discs of shave soap, since Dr. Bronner's works wonderfully for shaving (this is in fact the very first of the uses listed in line 1. of Dr. Bronner's original usage instructions!) Dr. Bronner's soap is well-known for its amazing lathering quality.

Later still, I discovered that SFC Williams could have saved money on razors without risking his jugular by using a straight-razor. As you can see in the video below, it is actually possible to "strop" a safety razor using an old pair of bluejeans.

The method shown in the video above actually works quite well, in spite of the naysayers in the "comments" below the video. Before I discovered this method, I changed out my disposable razor blade every week religiously. With this method, you can easily use the same blade for a year or more (you should splash it with rubbing alcohol after stropping it, which you only have to do every few days).

Critics may point out that I am not the most reliable source for shaving advice, since I now have a beard, but the answer to this is that I was in the US Army Infantry for 11 years of active duty, plus four more years at West Point, so I know a thing or two about having to ensure a good shave every single day.

Others may ask why anyone would go to such trouble. Certainly, if you feel like donating your money to disposable razor manufacturers, go right ahead. But keep in mind that their business model is actually such a well-known way of separating you from your money that it has spawned imitations across a broad swath of other industries, where it is known as the "razor-and-blade model" and is used to describe any business that sells you the supposed main product for next to nothing, in order to get you to buy the consumable accessories on a regular, ongoing basis for the rest of your life (computer printers might be another good example from a different industry).

This description of the wonderful shaving benefits of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps may be a bit of a tangent from the original direction of the post (which is about my warm memories of Dr. Bronner's from my childhood, and its ongoing place in my everyday life, as well as why everyone should carefully consider the ingredients in the products they rub on their skin), but it isn't really too much of a tangent.

The fact is that Dr. Bronner was urgently and personally aware of the danger of descent into barbarism in even the most apparently civilized cultures, and the need to prevent that horrible and very real possibility. He also put his finger on what he felt to be the catalyst for such barbarity: losing sight of the fact that we are all one family -- as he put it, "Whatever unites mankind is better than whatever divides us!"

This is a crucial insight, and one that we have examined together on this blog before, such as here and here, where we saw the horrible results of believing that differences in faith, skin color, or even length of earlobe can (and has) led some to decide that others deserve to lose their property, their freedom, and even their lives. Dr. Bronner experienced the loss of freedom himself over differences in belief (he later blamed the involuntary electrotherapy that he received for his failing eyesight, so he had not only his freedom violated but his body and his possibly his eyesight as well).

He spent his life trying to counteract that hideous tendency which is always lurking beneath the veneer of civilization, ready to bring it down. He understood that the security we enjoy is more fragile than we have been led to believe. He believed this message so urgently that it is still carved into every bar of soap produced by the company he founded: "ALL ONE!"

If only washing away this lingering dark side of the human condition were as easy as working up a good lather with Dr. Bronner's wonderfully therapeutic soap!

How does barbarism win?

The cause of the most recent London riots will be debated vehemently for years to come, with conclusions that will differ widely between those of different political persuasions and philosophies. Some even debate whether they should be called "riots" at all, since that word implies a spontaneous eruption of violence, while the vandalism and looting that took place on successive nights in London and surrounding areas last week may fit a different description.

What is beyond debate is that large numbers of people caused massive and deliberate destruction of property, and that some of the participants deliberately employed physical violence against other people and ended up killing them: in one case, two men drove a car at high speed into a crowd of people who were opposing the vandalism, killing three of them, and in another case a 68-year-old man who was trying to put out a fire that vandals had deliberately started was beaten unconscious by young members of the mob. He later died of his injuries.

Whatever your opinion of the ultimate cause of such behavior, it is clear that the wanton and deliberate destruction of property and the deliberate taking of human life is atrocious and barbaric. To excuse or even partially excuse the burning of shops, driving of cars into crowds, or beating of defenseless men over the head on the basis of economic inequality, high rates of unemployment, or perceived "racial" grievances is craven.

It is quite possible that stupid and oppressive policies stretching back for many decades are largely responsible for the conditions that led to the erosion of humanity underlying these despicable actions, but this possibility does not make that behavior any less inhuman. (Included in the category of possibly culpable policies are the longstanding social welfare schemes of Britain, which tend to degrade and debase men and women over time and eventually lead to infantile behavior and gnawing resentment, just as they do in the United States and everywhere else that they are enacted).

The connection to the discussion of a lost ancient civilization may not be immediately clear.

Consider, however, the fact that extensive evidence points to the conclusion that in the very ancient past, a civilization or civilization existed that (among other things) knew the size and shape of the earth, understood sophisticated mathematical concepts such as pi and phi, understood sophisticated astronomical phenomena including precession, understood subtle electromagnetic phenomena such as telluric currents, perceived the importance of harmonic sound waves and music and rhythm, could build monuments using blocks that even today we would have trouble moving, and could and did cross the oceans regularly.

At some point prior to the rise of most of the civilizations known to historians, almost all of the above knowledge was lost (or destroyed, or stamped out), although some of it survived in partial form or hidden form for centuries, and in fact some of it is still preserved in various forms to this day. While regression and loss of knowledge has taken place many times within known history, this particular loss is extraordinary in the contrast of what was known before and what was subsequently forgotten.

Somehow, we don't know how, barbarism won.

The implications of this fact of history are quite important. Since most people are not even aware that such levels of understanding were once possessed by the human race and then were lost, most people are not even aware that at some point in the past, barbarism and darkness won on a scale that is staggering to consider. The way history is taught today, most people believe that civilization and progress "won," although it experienced minor setbacks along the way. Those who teach this vision of history may be gravely mistaken.

Because we are generally completely unaware of such a catastrophic loss in the past, we are ill-equipped to even begin to ask how it happened. Judging from what we know in our own experience in modern times, however, we can guess that some of the ingredients of "modern barbarity" played a role. One of the main ingredients that appears again and again is the incitement of hatred against members of another group, whether they differ because of appearance, faith, culture, or other characteristic or characteristics. See this previous post on the violent history of Rapa Nui / Easter Island for an earlier discussion of this subject.

While the theory that the fall of that ancient civilization may have involved violence over grievances or differences of this sort is admittedly quite speculative at this point, there is some evidence that lends credence to this line of examination. The Olmecs are a mysterious and little-understood civilization that lived for a time in Central America and left behind sculptures featuring faces depicting very different ethnic characteristics, some of which are shown in this previous blog post. It is entirely possible that during the time such art was being produced, men of very different outward appearance were working together in relative harmony, perhaps based on advanced maritime trade and cultural contact.

Is it not possible that the descent into darkness was related to the collapse of this kind of cooperation and recognition of mutual humanity? Is it possible that the same sort of collapse could take place again?

While it is likely that there have always been those who would prefer to hate, fight, or even eat those who look different than one's own group (even if the difference is as minor as the length of earlobes described in the Easter Island essay linked above), the so-called "racial" or ethnic differences between people of different broad families of mankind are actually extremely superficial and have assumed an outsized role in our collective thinking since the nineteenth century due to mistaken Darwinian theories.

Wade Davis, the author of Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World (also mentioned in this previous post) argues that the entire concept of "race"is a flawed relic of nineteenth-century English anthropology*. The first of the lectures in his book deals at length with laying to rest the myth of the human "races," and deserves to be read in its entirety. It is important, however, to understand how a flawed application of a flawed theory can lead to enormous, disastrous, and long-lasting consequences, as can be seen from the following excerpts that outline Mr. Davis' explanation:
Evolution suggested change through time, and this, together with the Victorian cult of improvement, implied a progression in the affairs of human beings, a ladder to success that rose from the primitive to the civilized, from the tribal village of Africa to London and the splendour of the Strand. The cultures of the world came to be seen as a living museum in which individual societies represented evolutionary moments captured and mired in time, each one a stage in the imagined ascent to civilization. [. . .]. 11.

Having established the primacy of race, and the inherent superiority of Victorian England, anthropologists set out to prove their case. The scientific mismeasure of man began as phrenologists with calipers and rulers detected and recorded minute differences in skull morphology, which were presumed to reflect innate differences in intelligence. [. . .]. 12.

But when the science in fact suggests an end to race, when it reveals beyond any reasonable doubt that race is a fiction, it behooves us to listen. We should at least hope that for once the scientists have it right.

And they do. They have revealed beyond any doubt that the genetic endowment of humanity is a single continuum. From Ireland to Japan, from the Amazon to Siberia, there are no sharp genetic differences among populations. There are only geographical gradients. [. . .]

What all of this means is that biologists and population geneticists have at last proved to be true something that philosophers have always dreamed: We are all literally brothers and sisters. We are all cut from the same genetic cloth. 17-18.
In the book in which he lays out the evidence for his hydroplate theory, Dr. Walt Brown makes the same assertion that "race" is a fiction. Unlike Mr. Davis, Dr. Brown believes that there was a catastrophic global flood some time within the past ten thousand years, and that the human survivors of that event are of necessity the common ancestors of everyone living today. Such a theory is in agreement with the findings of modern geneticists that all humanity is closely related and that superficial physical differences are the result of the "turning on" or "turning off" of very minor genetic switches, largely in response to environment. In this section of his book, Dr. Brown writes:
In this context, there is only one race, the human race. Today, the word "race" has come to mean a group of people with distinguishing physical characteristics such as skin color, shape of eyes, and type of hair. This new meaning arose with the growing acceptance of evolutionism in the late 1800s. [. . .] Race is a social idea, not a scientific concept.
It must, of course, be pointed out that inhuman treatment of other human beings based on appearance did not begin with Darwin, but has no doubt been present for millennia (Shakespeare, for one, featured this theme in several of his plays, all of them published long before Darwin was born). The point is that justification of inhuman behavior against other groups is the road to barbarism and darkness. The mistaken theories of Darwin have in aggregate exacerbated the problem.

There are plenty of people today who wish to incite grievances between "races." Many of these grievances have their basis in oppressive treatment that was itself predicated on the same flawed theories and racial conceits. It is quite possible that such issues played a role in collapses into barbarism and inhumanity in mankind's ancient past as well.

* Note that just because Mr. Davis recognizes the race-obsessed theories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for the poisonous fiction that they are does not mean that he endorses the other conclusions of this blog such as the rejection of the theories of Darwin and his successors, or the belief in a cataclysmic global flood or sophisticated ancient civilizations.